The Cleveland Browns are one of a number of teams linked to former Clemson star wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Tabbed as the ‘consensus’ top receiver in the draft, Watkins has been linked to the St. Louis Rams more than anyone, but has been mentioned with every team in the top 5 picks save the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, even Houston has been talked about with Watkins. I can only hope that the Browns, at least, are using Watkins interest as a smokescreen to hide their true interest.
First, Watkins is a great prospect, but in my opinion, he is not an elite prospect. Here is the link to my full breakdown of Watkins. For me, he is not in the conversation with players like Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green. I thought Keenan Allen was an elite receiver last year. I think Watkins is a tremendous second receiver, but he does not scream a player that should be taken in the top 10 to 15 picks.
And for all of the talk of him being universally regarded as the top receiver in this draft, Watkins will not be my top receiver in this class. I like Odell Beckham from LSU better overall and for the Browns, who likely will be available to be had at 26 if the Browns insist on going with a first round receiver. Overall, I also have Mike Evans from Texas A&M as a better receiver prospect even though he is still more raw.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say Watkins is the best receiver. Even if that is the case, it is still an incredibly foolish decisions for the Browns to take him with the fourth pick of the draft. Essentially, the Browns are trying to find a third option on their offense and using the fourth pick in the draft to do it in what is being called one of the best, deepest drafts ever. If Watkins is everything people hope he is, he jumps ahead of Jordan Cameron, who was a Pro Bowl tight end this past year and coming into his prime, but is not going to get past where Josh Gordon got to this past year, provided he can keep his head on straight.
Even with a combined 2,563 yards and 16 touchdowns on 167 catches between them, the Browns won four games. Four. The Browns need another wide receiver, but getting another wide receiver is going to have about the weakest impact of anything the Browns could do with that pick. As big of a dumpster fire as the Browns offense was this past year, they threw for a combined 4,372 yards passing. Could the Browns shoot for 5,000? Sure. Be more efficient with it? Absolutely. How much more can they reasonably get out of that group and how much of an investment does it really require?
The team would still be hoping they have an answer at quarterback based on just two games of tape with Brian Hoyer and even the most ardent supports of Hoyer suggest he is a game manager that might get better. Maybe I am alone on this, but if I have that many weapons to throw the ball, I want more than a game manager. Yes, the Browns could and hopefully would be able to get a better quarterback with the other first round pick. Personally, I would love them to get Derek Carr as anyone who has followed me for any length of time is already aware. However, I think he or whomever they get can function with just Gordon and Cameron and a pick later in the draft.
The other issue that the local media is painfully unaware of because they know next to nothing about the draft. Almost to an individual, they will freely admit they watch zero tape, so asking them who they should take is a waste of time. They have no clue just how deep the wide receiver class is this year. For the most part, they are people trying to talk from a standpoint of being informed while staying just one lesson of the people they are trying to inform.
There are going to be star caliber players falling into the second, third, and later in the draft. In a normal year, players like Marqise Lee would be a lock first rounder and he could still go there. Brandin Cooks would be a lock for the first round in a lot of drafts. Jordan Matthews should be a first rounder this year. All three of those prospects could fall into the second round and be had at a substantial value. There are simply too many good receivers available and not enough spots for them to all go.
Go deeper and start learning about and watching some of these second and third level prospects that are really impressive. Shaq Evans from UCLA, Davante Adams from Fresno State, and Paul Richardson from Colorado are three great examples of players who could fall in the draft to the third or maybe even the fourth round and be a terrific value to the Browns and help them immediately. The list of receivers who can do that goes on and on, so spending the fourth pick in the draft on a position that is so stacked is just bad value.
From a strategic standpoint, if the Browns are not going to take a quarterback with the fourth pick in the draft, get an impact player at an impact position. Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack; these are elite prospects at critical positions for the Browns. Clowney would be almost a toy for head coach Mike Pettine considering the talent already here on the defensive line. Line him up any number of different spots and let him go get the quarterback.
Mack is a little more nuanced. Personally, I think he can be a terrific outside linebacker, defensive end or inside linebacker. Considering the hybrid scheme, Mack could play inside linebacker and attack from there, but move around depending on the various looks the team wants to use. He would not simply be drafted here, plugged in the middle and that would be it. With a player like Mack and with players like Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, and Paul Kruger along with the talent on the defensive line, Pettine can just find different ways to put three or even all four of them on the field at the same time to cause chaos and put pressure on the opposing team.
It could be something, it could be nothing, but Pettine did go personally to the University of Buffalo Pro Day to see Mack workout in person. It would be really difficult to believe the Browns would take Mack to have him play as a traditional outside linebacker with all the players the Browns already have in that spot.
I am less enthralled by the idea of drafting a right tackle in Greg Robinson, but nevertheless would do that over taking Watkins. Robinson is a bull dozer in the running game and if the Browns can kick Mitchell Schwartz inside to right guard, the hope is they could find a back later in the draft and run down people like grass. Improving the running game would do more for this team than investing a high pick in a wide receiver and linemen are typically better investments than receivers. Additionally, Robinson’s potential is higher relative to his position than that of Watkins in my opinion.
Lastly, for all of the elite receivers that have warranted being picked in the top 10, look at how their teams do? Andre Johnson has been largely wasted in Houston. Larry Fitzgerald went to the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner, but has almost fallen off the face of the Earth since he left. Calvin Johnson has made the playoffs, but not won. A.J. Green is a phenomenal receiver but the Bengals have not won a playoff game and Andy Dalton is holding him back.
The wide receiver by its very nature is dependent on the quarterback position to succeed. Expecting it to work the other way around is a dangerous and tends to be an awful way to build a team. Gordon did as admirable a job as one could last year with the unbelievable season he had. The Browns need more wide receiver help, but they are looking for a third option. They have Gordon, they have Cameron. They do not need to spend the fourth pick of the draft on a receiver.
The Browns need a quarterback and they need players that can come in and make an impact without needing someone else to do it. Watkins can only go so far with a mediocre quarterback and there are only so many balls to go around, especially when the quarterback is average. Hopefully, the Browns are just allowing Watkins to be a smokescreen and cover up what they really want to do with the fourth pick or a team picking in front of them will take him, because it is terrible draft strategy; a poor use of resources and an extremely risky way to build a team. Don’t do it.